In defense of non-monogamy

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford tearfully admitted to having ...

Associated Press photo

A teary-eyed South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (top) and a teary-eyed Jimmy Swaggart. These wingnuts are assbites, to be sure, but could it be that monogamy is a tall order for most men — and that it isn’t their fault?

As much as I love to see the downfall of any Repugnican hypocrite (that’s pretty much redundant, Repugnican hypocrite…), I can’t say that I have been relishing (much) the latest Repugnican infidelity scandal, that of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The biggest problem that I have with Sanford, whom I know of only because he jumped upon the “Obama’s economic stimulus plan = (gasp!) socialism!” bandwagon, is that he didn’t decide to remain in Argentina with his mistress.

But seriously, to me the larger question — seriously — is whether or not the human male, straight or gay, is meant to be monogamous.

My understanding of primatology, or at least of mammalogy, is that it’s biologically advantageous, and thus more or less innate, for a testosterone-driven male to spread his seed, so to speak, as widely as possible, while it is the estrogren-driven female who desires the stability of monogamy, since she is the primary caretaker of the offspring, if for no other reason than that it is the female who lactates.

(Yes, with non-heterosexual and transgendered individuals things can be different, but most gay men I know seem to be at least as sexually adventurous as are straight males. What gay and straight men do have in common is testosterone, and even though gay men cannot reproduce, of course, as Harvey Milk is quoted [accurately or not] as having said in the film “Milk,” we sure keep trying!)

Why do we human beings think that we are exempt from biology? Many if not most Americans will even argue that humans aren’t animals, they’re humans, although any biologist or zoologist will tell you that yes, of course humans are animals as they define the term “animal.”

So while I’m perfectly ready and willing to condemn Sanford for having raked Bill Clinton over the coals for Clinton’s infidelity when Sanford was a U.S. representative, I don’t know that I’m ready to condemn Sanford for his own infidelity when I surmise that monogamy is not natural to many if not most human males.

If monogamy were innate, why, then, does it fail so often?

Monogamy, I surmise, is a societal creation, not a biological reality for many if not most human males (and perhaps not for many human females, either), and to shame and condemn anyone for something that is biological, for something that is innate — like homosexuality — is potentially to make someone feel awful about himself or herself about something that is beyond his or her control.

So yes, let’s criticize the Repugnicans for their idiocy and their hypocrisy and for their frequently treasonous behavior, but we need to examine this monogamy thing more closely before we condemn any male who finds monogamy to be challenging if not impossible.

My boyfriend, of course, wholly disagrees with me on this…

P.S. An Associated Press piece titled “Analysis: Why Do Politicians Cheat?” — credited to all-female writers — typically wholly overlooks the biological aspects of infidelity/non-monogamy.

My guess is that most people take social conventions as givens, as reality, and don’t even question them. A great number of people are too afraid (and/or lazy), I think, to reconsider, much more to actively challenge, the worldview that they’ve been spoon-fed, including the societal belief that a man should be happy with one mate until death does him part, and that if this doesn’t work for him, then he is defective and/or sinful.


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8 responses to “In defense of non-monogamy

  1. Who and what we are depends on the *interaction* between our biologic imperatives and genetics on one hand and our environment on the other … including that part of the environment that we have constructed, ourselves.

    It is not as though it is horrifically difficult to be monogamous, as though every homo sapiens who attempts the endeavor is doomed to second-by-second conflict within.

    But nor is it terribly difficult to be non-monogamous, as Mark Sanford found out.

    I wonder, in the end, which will keep him up nights more often — that he “cheated,” or that he left love on the table in Argentina?

  2. robertdcrook

    Hmmm. I am unswayed. Your argument seems to be that one should try to be monogamous because monogamy is culturally expected. To me that’s like saying that gay men and lesbians should try to be heterosexual because heterosexuality is culturally expected.

    Sure, as a gay man, I could, I suppose, force myself to act heterosexually, but that’s not natural for me. My point is that I’m not sure that monogamy is natural for many or even most men. And you’re not, either…

    P.S. According to a science writer, “Only 3 percent to 5 percent of the roughly 5,000 species of mammals (including humans) are known to form lifelong, monogamous bonds, with the loyal superstars including beavers, wolves and some bats.”

    I’ll take science over cultural beliefs. The cultural belief that monogamy is the norm for humans is appearing to be a superstition…

    P.P.S. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sanford goes back to his mistress. He wouldn’t have had her had he been happy in the first place, and what does he have now?

    Finally, I’ll add that I’ve seen excerpts of e-mails between Sanford and his Argentinian mistress on the ‘Net, and I think that that’s wrong. Even if Sanford was using a state government e-mail account, even if it was technically legal to violate his e-mail privacy, decency would dictate that you don’t violate someone’s e-mail privacy. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, and I don’t know anyone who would want his or her e-mails to a love interest leaked to the world via the World Wide Web.

    • Oh, beg pardon. I certainly did not mean to suggest what anyone should or should not do. Rather, I’m saying that some — even a lot — of people *are more inclined* to monogamy because of environment.

      I am not defending the cultural environment.

      Ever read “Monkeyluv” by Robert M. Sapolsky? You’d probably like it.

      • robertdcrook

        Monogamy may work for many people. My main concern is that we don’t make people feel badly for what’s innate. Life is difficult enough without being made to feel badly for what is beyond our control. Aside from potential STD transmission, the only “harm” from non-monogamy seems to be that it causes jealousy and harm to the ego, which is not actual harm, but is — harm to the ego…

  3. *I* don’t make people feel bad for it, and neither do you. We’re singing different parts in the same choir.

    Everything and everyone in Mark Sanford’s life apparently screams at him that he’s been very BAD. And that seems to overwhelm the biologic whisper of “but it felt so right.”

  4. robertdcrook

    Hmmm. I’m certainly not nominating Sanford for sainthood, but to me his wrongdoings are that he lied about the affair and that he apparently used state funds in conducting the affair. I would hold him accountable for lying and stealing, but not for being a human being with sexual drives.

    Of course, the reason that he’d lie about an affair, aside from not wanting to lose his position of power, is the pervasive cultural myth that those who aren’t happy with one person until death does him (or her) part are sinful and/or defective — just as the cultural myth that homosexuality is sinful and/or defective induces homosexual individuals to lie about their sexual orientation.

    And I think that we need to avoid the trap of castigating others, of flogging them in the media (in which I include the Internet and blogosphere, of course), in order to feel better about ourselves. That would make us — Repugnicans…

  5. It has been my observation that freakouts about non-monogamy aren’t confined to the right wing of the the Rethuglican party.

    I hope Sanford stays in office. I wish Spitzer had. Etc. Just because regardless of what they actually did wrong — lying or stealing — it’s the sex that bugs people.

    It bugs you, and it bugs me, that it bugs them. We’d like them to get over it.

    (Still me, btw … I have two IDs. I’m not anonymous with either, it has more to do with where I am than who I am.)

  6. shane

    A fantastic book on this subject is Laura Kipnis’s “Against Love.” And no, it’s not against love, but it is a bold and unflinching polemic about the preposterousness of our cultural expectations about sexual exclusivity. It’s also frequently hilarious, even though her approach is serious and cerebral.
    My husband and I have been happily married for 38 years and neither of us believes “faithfulness” is determined by whether or not we are sexual with other people.

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